Category Archives: Talking about the Farewell

Talking about The Farewell and being Chinese/American

Nimen hao,

First let’s do the quiz on the reading ‘cultural racism’.

OK, we’re going to have some discussions about The Farewell, written and directed by Lulu Wang.

Lulu Wang says the film is based on ‘a real lie’. Her family is from Changchun and the story is based on her own family’s story.

So far the film won the audience favourite award at the Sundance film festival, and the best feature film award at the Atlanta film festival.

A key concept to think with: Hybridity

A hybrid is a mixture of two different kinds of plants that when you grow them together, form a new kind of plant. We have one in my father’s garden, it’s an orange-lemon fruit tree. Makes delicious juice.

Western humanties social science academics use the concept of hybridity to talk about mixing of cultures. Mostly they think about it in terms of migrants.

In this movie we have Chinese and American culture.

Is Billi Chinese? Is she American? Or is she both?

The Western social scientists would say she has hybridity, she is Chinese-American and has some of both cultures. That makes her a little different from Americans, and from Chinese.

Let’s remind ourselves of the locations and the characters.




The Family

Nai Nai. Forceful, energetic and funny grandma (father’s mother).
Xiao Nai Nai Lu Hong (Nai Nai de mei mei).


Hai Yan. Billi de Baba. Warm, kind, a little boozy.
Lu Jian. Billi de mama. Strict, rational,  a little repressed?.
Aunty Ling, Haibin’s wif


Hai Bin. Billi de uncle. Lives and works in Japan. Smart, kind, sentimental, a little boozy.


Billi, a struggling, artistically minded New Yorker who emigrated from China with her parents as a young child six years old.
Hao Hao. Billi de cousin. Sweet, simple. Aiko. Japanese girlfriend. Confused, overwhelmed.



Discussion 1. The story

Tell the story of the film. What happens, how does the film show what happens (how does it tell the story). What genre is/genres are used in the film?

In some ways, Billi is closer to her grandmother who lives in the northern Chinese city of Changchun and speaks no English, than to her own mother or father.


Discussion 2: generational relations.

Describe and compare Billi’s relationship with her Nai Nai to her relationships with her parents.

The criers

Discussion 3: Chinese/American identities.

“Chinese people have a saying: when people get cancer, they die,” says Billi’s mother. “But it’s not the cancer that kills them, it’s the fear.” Billi disagrees, arguing that Nai Nai has the right to confront her fate.

Nai Nai’s illness and the family’s response create a situation in which Billi’s “Chineseness” and “Americanness” (no, those aren’t real words) come into conflict.

1.Describe how the film shows those different identities and the tensions between them. You might think about different cultural values and practices.

2.Discuss Billi’s ideas and feelings about China (and Changchun in particular).

3. She’s your grandmother. What would you do?

Discussion 4. The dinner party (talking about China and America)

Watch this clip of the dinner party (39.20-43.20). Jian and Yuping and the family are talking about America and China.

Tell us about the discussion (what do they say, what are their points of view?).

What do you think about their views?

Discussion 5: the forced marriage.

Billi’s cousin and his Japanese girlfriend have been dating for three months and then are required to marry (the family makes them).

Discuss your thoughts on the marriage. Is that good?  Would you agree to marry like they have? Will the marriage succeed? Are arranged marriages typical in China?Did they used to be?

A reading. ‘Young people at the Family Gathering’

The situations below describe a series of family attitudes faced by young Chinese adults at New Year family gatherings.

1.Upon arriving at the family gathering, seldom-seen older relatives will ask: ‘Are you married and do you have a child?’

2. If you have a spouse, then older relatives will want to know everything about them, especially how much money they earn.

3. If you have a child, then the child will have to perform for them, for example, by singing, dancing, telling jokes or demonstrating their ability to speak English.

4. In contrast, if you are married but do not have a child, then older relatives will urge you to get ‘pregnant’ that very day; and, if you are not married then they will beseech you to get married and have a child without delay.

5. If you have a boyfriend/girlfriend, you will be told to ‘strike while the iron is hot’ rather than risk rejection by your partner and being unable to find another partner, then ultimately becoming old and unmarried, and socially ostracized as someone who obviously has ‘a problem’. The following discussion about the inevitable awfulness of becoming a social outcast should you delay in marrying will make you promise to register to get married the following day.

6. If you do not have a boyfriend/girlfriend then you will be told to find one immediately because being single contravenes the laws of nature, civilization and science, and is basically an ‘anti-revolutionary’ crime that harms the well-being of ‘one’s parents, grandparents, Chinese society, the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese nation!’

7. Your older relatives will conclude by offering to introduce you straightaway to a suitable person whom you should promptly marry, and have a child with, to stop everyone from worrying that you will grow old alone and be forced to ‘beg for food on the streets’.

do your parents push youThese situations were jokingly called ‘Chinese-style forced marriage’ (Zhongguo shi bihun).  It suggests that young adults are often reluctant to attend New Year family gatherings because, unless they are married with a child, their older relatives will compel them to become so.

Discussion 6: some reading questions

a. What are some of the expectations that older relatives have of single young adult children in the reading above?

b. What are some of the expectations that older relatives have of young adult children’s girlfriends and boyfriends in the reading above?

c. What are some of the expectations that older relatives have of married young adult children in the reading above?

d. The reading is meant to be a little bit humorous but also true. What do you think? Is it accurate?


Watch Crazy Rich Asians.